Rikers Island is New York City’s main jail complex. Located in the East River and isolated from the rest of the city, Rikers has been historically known for corruption, inhumane conditions, and violence that affects not only the inmates but also the correction officers. On any given day, over 8,000 New Yorkers are jailed on Rikers, three out of four of them awaiting trial, charged but not convicted, and, in most cases, detained at Rikers because they cannot afford cash bail. More than 40 percent of these inmates suffer from mental health issues and almost 90 percent are people of color.
In 2017, the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, also known as the Lippman Commission, issued a report calling on the city to close Rikers. The initial and a subsequent report described Rikers as a “penal colony” and “irredeemable.” The city has suggested a ten-year timeline for closing Rikers, but that is far too long, and even that timeline is not guaranteed.
In April 2019, New York State passed sweeping criminal justice legislation limiting the use of money bail and reforming our evidence sharing and speedy trial laws. According to analysis from the Center for Court Innovation, 43 percent of the almost 5,000 people currently detained in New York City pre-trial would have been released under the new legislation as they would no longer be eligible for either bail or detention. The new system of bail could divert thousands of people from detention, a significant step towards decarcerating NYC and closing Rikers.
Community leaders and advocates have a strong role to play in the weeks and months ahead. Policies and reforms that will speed the closing of Rikers are being debated, and your voice is needed.
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Ending Punishment for Poverty
The Mass Bail Out campaign posted bail for over one hundred women and children awaiting trial, many of whom were held at Rikers Island and could not afford bail. As the Rev. Winnie Varghese explains, cash bail is a broken system, a punishment for poverty. Hear why she and others from our Trinity Church Wall Street community partnered with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights to support this historic action. Learn more at massbailout.org.
Cash Bail and Rikers Island Jail
Trinity Church Wall Street recently hosted faith groups committed to closing Rikers Island Jail, a goal that can’t be accomplished until the jail’s population, 78 percent of whom are accused but not convicted, is significantly reduced. One reason so many people remain in Rikers so long is that they cannot afford the cost of cash bail, one of many subjects retired Judge Jonathan Lippman and the Rev. Winnie Varghese of Trinity discussed in a wide-ranging video interview about Rikers.
Faith Communities and the Effort to Close Rikers Island Jail
Trinity Church Wall Street on April 17 hosted a breakfast meeting at St. Paul’s Chapel to bring faith communities together with leaders of the movement to close New York City’s Rikers Island Jail.
Discussing Rikers Island Jail
Trinity Church Wall Street on April 17 hosted a breakfast meeting at St. Paul’s Chapel for leaders of New York City’s faith communities on the subject of Rikers Island Jail.
- How Do We Close Rikers? (pdf)
- Closing Rikers Island Is a Moral Imperative
The New York Times, March 31, 2017
For more information, or to request printed materials about closing Rikers, email email@example.com.